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4 in 5 doctors concerned some patients will get left behind if telemedicine increases post Covid-19

Four in five doctors in Ireland (79 per cent) are worried that if there is an expectation for more appointments to be delivered remotely after Covid-19, some vulnerable patient groups may get left behind, according to a survey by the Medical Protection Society (MPS).

In the MPS survey of 361 doctors in Ireland, 64 per cent agreed that the benefits of telemedicine have been unquestionable during Covid-19, and that it will remain a fundamental tool in practice. However, 79 per cent raised concerns about patients whose access to remote services may be impacted by factors such as digital literacy, disability, language, location or internet connection.

80 per cent of the doctors surveyed went on to say they are concerned that if some patients feel excluded from telemedicine, this may result in a breakdown in the doctor/patient relationship, or conditions being left untreated. 78 per cent also said they are generally more worried about missing something in a remote consultation, with 64 per cent saying they are more worried about a claim or investigation arising.

Last month, the Medical Council reported a five-fold increase in the use of telemedicine in Ireland since the start of the pandemic, and it is looking at the regulatory challenges presented by the increase in its use.

MPS – the world’s leading protection organisation for healthcare professionals, supporting over 21,000 in Ireland – said the Government and healthcare system must take a long-term strategic approach when it comes to the role of virtual care beyond the pandemic, taking into account doctors’ concerns, patients’ experiences, and research on digital inequality.

Dr Pallavi Bradshaw, Medicolegal Lead, Risk Prevention at MPS, said:“Telemedicine is not a new concept and the use of technology in delivering medical services has been slowly evolving over the years. Covid-19 has however fast-tracked large-scale adoption, and while the benefits have been indisputable during the pandemic there are naturally concerns around its limitations, the need for support and training due to the different skills required when consulting in this way, and the desired role of virtual care beyond the pandemic.

“A key concern for doctors is the potential for vulnerable patient groups to be left behind and for health inequalities to grow, if there is desire for more patient consultations to be delivered online after Covid-19. Access to remote services could be impacted by factors such as digital literacy, disability, language, location or internet connection.

“As doctors have highlighted in our survey, if patients feel excluded from telemedicine, this could lead to a breakdown in the doctor/patient relationship or conditions going untreated. A significant number of doctors are concerned about the potential for medicolegal disputes and investigations to arise from this and other limitations of telemedicine.

“MPS has been working with doctors to help them adapt to the significant increase in telemedicine and mitigate risks through our Risk Prevention programmes on the medicolegal, ethical and communication challenges which telemedicine creates. But the burden should not be on doctors to address the digital inequalities across society.

“The Government and healthcare system must take a long-term strategic approach when considering the role of virtual care beyond the pandemic. This should be based on the experiences of patients, an ongoing evaluation of the barriers to accessing telemedicine for vulnerable patient groups, and the concerns raised by doctors. Doctors must feel supported by the Government and should not be left to deal with any unintended repercussions from an increased use of telemedicine.”

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